If you live in Prague long enough, it’s likely that the name Karen Feldman will come across your radar. Originally from New York City, Feldman is the founder and creative director of Artěl – a luxury crystal glassware company that has garnered press across the globe. Self-described as “a quirky New Yorker, creative, indulgent and kind”, her story is as original as her glass.
It was 1994 when Feldman first arrived in Prague. She’d been offered a position in a start-up cosmetic company run by another American. True to character, she took on the position despite having no experience in the industry.
Less than a year into it, however, her boss decided to move her to Arizona. For Feldman, who had lived in New York City, San Francisco, and now Prague, this was “abominable,” she said. “Arizona was not my speed.” So, after just eight months back in the US, Feldman made the decision to return to Prague independently.
Unsure of what to do, but sensing there was opportunity, Feldman – who had studied fine art photography – determined that she wanted to do something creative, but also business oriented. After looking around, “it became obvious that glass was the creative industry”. So she wrote a letter to the world-renowned Moser glass company and offered to be a free intern. “They never wrote back.” But instead of viewing the incident as setback, Feldman took a big step forward: “I decided to start my own glass company,” she said. “Not knowing anything about glass, but clearly having the American entrepreneurial spirit.”
After designing six glasses, she took a trip to New York, where she was connected with the Metropolitan Design Group, who asked her to bring back her collection in four months. “I had no idea what a collection was,” she said. “But somehow, by some miracle, it all came together.” The organization started representing her in January of 1998. “The rest is history.”
Today, nearly 15 years into her business, Feldman has firmly planted roots in the glass industry and the city she’s called home for the past 18 years. “[I don’t think about returning to the US or moving elsewhere] on a full-time basis. I really view [Prague] as my home.” Her designs can be found in exclusive shops around the world, including Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and Christian Dior, and in the hands of a number of high-profile clients including Victoria Beckham, Susan Sarandon, and Reese Witherspoon.
“We are definitely a niche market,” she said.
In 2007, she opened her first Artěl retail shop in Prague, followed by a second shop by the Charles Bridge in 2010. Through these venues, Feldman has received further affirmation of her customer’s appreciation for her unique take on crystal.
“Crystal in general is a pretty boring, conservative industry, and very classic in terms of design. We are very graphic and creative,” she said. “The idea of putting a monkey on a glass and charging two hundred and fifty dollars for it is unusual. Or allowing someone to have seventeen colors to choose from and really allowing them to create their own piece of glass, again, is unusual.”
Along with running the show at Artěl – which includes, amongst other tasks, “coming up with everything that will be added to the collection,” being part of the design process from start to finish, attending trade shows, and handling all the marketing ¬– Feldman shares her life with her partner and her pooch, spends many a weekend at her “chata”, and says she is “big on antiquing, a really avid shopper, and an avid cook and baker”. Her love for sharing her “fabulous finds” led her to pen her award-winning guidebook to Prague, Prague: Artěl Style, in 2007. A second, expanded version is due to be released early next year. She also recently started a blog, featured on her company website, which she views as an extension of the book.
In terms of ambitions outside of her business, Feldman says she has “a few things brewing, but I’ll let them continue to brew.” She adds “once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.”
Feldman’s entrepreneurial spirit was instilled in her at a young age through family. Both her grandfather and father were entrepreneurs, in the book business and art business, respectively. “I think when you’ve had that kind of spirit in the family, it allows them to encourage you because they’ve had success. I think it’s not encouraged often when the members of your family have had very conservative jobs,” she said. “And so, they were very supportive.” She adds with a laugh. “They encouraged me not to work for anybody.”